Alito Sets Deadline For New Jersey To Respond In Religious Freedom Case

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has given New Jersey until Dec. 3 to respond to a case brought against it by a church and a synagogue that allege the state is unfairly applying COVID-19 protocols to religious institutions.

Fr. Kevin Robinson of Saint Anthony of Padua Church and Rabbi Yisrael A. Knopfler filed their suits earlier this year, which made their way through the courts. On Wednesday, they appealed to Alito after a lower court rejected their request for an injunction, according to Fox News.

Officials from the state have until 6 p.m. on Dec. 3 to respond, at which point the religious institutions can weigh in and Alito is free to issue a court order. Because New Jersey lies under his geographical jurisdiction, Alito can handle the application himself or ask his colleagues on the Supreme Court to get involved.

“The First Amendment protects religious exercise from discriminatory value judgments by public authorities in the exercise of ’emergency powers,’” the application said. “More than eight months into the era of COVID-19, however, religious gatherings in New Jersey (and several other states) are still being treated unequally relative to numerous comparable secular activities.”

The suit also claims that the state’s mask mandate is a violation of the Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause.

Earlier this month, Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy extended New Jersey’s March 9 public health emergency declaration for the ninth time, which offers him the authority to issue executive orders to combat COVID-19 as cases continue to spike. He limited indoor gatherings to a maximum of 10 people, which included religious gatherings.

Murphy tweeted Nov. 16:

BREAKING: I’m signing an Executive Order RETIGHTENING restrictions on gatherings to help stop the spread of #COVID19.

Effective tomorrow:
Indoor gatherings are limited to a MAXIMUM of 10 people

Effective Nov 23rd:
Outdoor gatherings are limited to a MAXIMUM of 150 people

The following indoor gatherings may continue under the current rules – limited to 25% of a room’s capacity, up to 150 people:
Religious services/celebrations and political events
Weddings
Funerals/memorial services
Performances

The Supreme Court made headlines late on Wednesday when it ruled 5-4 against Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a religious liberty case brought against him by the Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations.

As The Daily Wire reported:

The recent confirmation of President Trump-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett has resulted in its first significant Supreme Court outcome, and it relates to the first protected liberty specified in the Bill of Rights: the free exercise of religion.

In a 5-4 ruling late Wednesday night, the Supreme Court backed a religious challenge to Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions limiting attendance at religious services. The majority ruling blocks enforcement of the restrictions while the applicants pursue appellate review. The ruling highlights the lack of evidence that the applicants — the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, two Jewish synagogues, and an Orthodox Jewish organization — have contributed to the spread of the virus and questions the rationale of the specifics of Cuomo’s restrictions, which limited services to just 10 and 25 occupants for red and orange zones, respectively.

Related: Viral Video: NJ Gov. Phil Murphy Confronted At Restaurant For Not Wearing Mask

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